Monday, August 6, 2012

Gomer: Grace, not Tolerance

Do you know any prostitutes?  I'm not asking metaphorically.  I mean literally, have you ever been well-acquainted with a prostitute? I have-more than one.  Professionally and as a volunteer, I have worked in communities where young women sell their bodies.  One memorable night, I drove in to the neighborhood and passed a string of giggling girls seemingly between fifteen and nineteen.  They struck me so incongruously.   They were of an age to be waiting for the school bus or working nights at the Chick-fil-a.  Yet here they were In their high heels and short skirts, brazenly calling out to the johns who were creeping by with their windows down.  I hurt for them, because I also knew their older counterparts, still trading on assets long past their prime.  I have seen them dying of AIDS or of Hepatitis C.  I have no illusions.  Leaving this life is not as simple as having another option; it needs time and grace.

Hosea knew a prostitute.  Her name was Gomer, and she was his wife.  When she was the mother of three, only one of whom is clearly identified as Hosea's, she left him and went back to her old life.  When God's word came to him, he bought her.  Not for an hour, not for a night, but just like a slave.  Ironically, the one man who had every right to her paid the most-15 shekels of silver and a homer and half of barley.

God knew a prostitute.  Her name was Israel and she was his wife.  He rescued her from Egypt, gave her the entire land of Canaan, and provided her with everything she needed.  She left him.  The first time was in the wilderness.  While He was on the mountain talking to Moses, she was at the foot of the mountain selling herself to a calf.  (Exodus 32)  After that it was every high place and every green hill.    Israel was brazen, "I will go after my lovers" (Hosea 2:9)  She believed they provided her with every necessity and luxury.  (Hosea 2:5,8,12)

Hosea bought his wife and brought her home - celibate.  She wasn't allowed out to have sex with anyone else and Hosea wasn't having her in his bed either.    When God redeemed Israel it was to a relationship only half of what they had. Although they had finally put idol worship behind them, it was long years before the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt or the temple restored.  (Hosea 3:3-4 For further details see the books of Nehemiah and Ezra.)

I can't imagine that the people of Israel looked around at their culture, at their habits, and said to themselves. "Why I believe we are a nation of whores."  Yet that was God's judgment of the situation.  In parallel I don't think we look around too often at ourselves, our churches, or our culture and picture ourselves on the street corner advertising our wares.  Yet the church, the bride of Christ, may be guilty of some of Israel's sins.

If we were prostituting ourselves what would it look like?  God's charges Israel with counting the idols as the source of the blessings He provided.  Do we misunderstand the source of our blessings? Do we think it is our own hard work, our country, our politics, our leaders, our policies or our science that blesses us? God complains that they trusted in their own power. (Hosea 10:13-14) Are we guilty of buying into a "bootstrap" philosophy? Have we ever made self-reliance, self-esteem, self-actualization into idols?   The Lord accuses them of ignorance.  He is especially unhappy with the leaders who should have been responsible for the education of Israel. (Hosea 4: 6) Do we accept leaders who are long on fluff and short on scripture? Are we and the Christians around us Biblically illiterate, more interested in Jersey Shore than Jeremiah?

The prostitution of Israel wasn't just metaphorical.  God calls them out for literally encouraging "sacred" prostitution* as well as a generally casual attitude towards sex. (Hosea 5:13-14) Do we allow our culture's ideas about sex to invade the church? Whether we are as rigid as the Puritans or as loose as the Greeks, God's view is different.  The Bible celebrates all of God's creation as good and points us towards enjoying the things He created, in their appointed time and place.

The story of the whole book is a story of grace-not a story of tolerance.  Hosea can't tolerate his wife's adultery.  God can't bear the actions of Israel.  Still His grace is sufficient.  Hosea, paralleling God, buys Gomer back and purifies her.  God's grace is more than enough to forgive and restore Israel.  In Hosea 11, God describes himself as the one who "took them in my arms," a beautiful picture of a father picking up a small child to care for and comfort them.  When we fail, as a church, as women, when we fail as spectacularly as Israel, we have to remember that our Bridegroom, though He cannot tolerate our sin, has more than enough grace to forgive it. 

*Sacred prostitution is when as a part of a religious ritual the observer pays for and has sex with a priest or priestess.  It was a common part of the Canaanite fertility religions. 


Sometimes when I write these posts, I not only discover something new and wonderful from the word of God, but sometimes I find I have a lot more questions than I have answers.  For example, do you think its fair to compare the church and Israel in the aspect of spiritual prostitution?  Or more personally, how can we reflect God's grace back into the lives of people whose sin we can't abide?  Especially people whose sin hurts us?  How is that different from tolerating their sin?  Leave us a comment and tell me what you think!  Did you have an answer for some of those questions?  Or did some other questions occur to you?

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission 

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